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Robin Silverman

Decluttering Communications
by Robin L. Silverman

"Why do I feel so pressed for time?" a woman asked me at a recent workshop. "I have it all—voicemail, Email, faxes, a pager—you name it. It should be a snap for me to communicate with people, but instead, I find that my days are cluttered either by people chasing me or me trying to find them."

As little as five years ago, few of us spent two or more hours daily on technological communications. You used to be able to walk into your office, receive five or ten slips with phone messages, organize them in under one minute, and start calling people back. Today, you might return to your office after a meeting to find those same five or ten messages. But now, they’re each one minute or more on your voicemail. Retrieving your messages—formerly a 60-second job—now takes over 10 minutes.

Something Wonderful is About to Happen by Robin Silverman

To add to the clutter, many of those voicemail messages are from people who are simultaneously sending Email and/or faxes on the same subject, for the same reason. How often have you had a caller who says, "I’m calling to let you know that I sent you an Email on this?" Usually those Emails have attachments, too. What used to be discussed in a single phone call (which you’ll likely have to make anyway) is now cluttered by a voicemail and an Email, adding still more for you to unclutter before you can get to your own priority list.

Pagers and cell phones are adding clutter, too, layering communications on top of meetings or other periods of supposed concentration. Once you are interrupted this way, you not only lose momentum for finishing what you’re doing, but must clear the clutter before you can continue, which often means that you cannot complete what you have started. A meeting that is half-done usually has to get redone at some point. Reports and projects that are interrupted end up being patched together piecemeal as time allows.

If you have communication clutter, try some of these quick and easy ideas to help you gain time, cut down on miscommunications and mistakes, and clear your desk for more important work:

  • First, tell people how you’d like them to reach you. Pick any ONE method, not several. If you check your Email regularly, tell them to use that. If you prefer voicemail or telephone, give out your number. Eliminate all but your preferred method of communication from your business card. If people complain, simply say, "If you want me to carefully consider and respond to you, this is how you should reach me. I tend to ignore or delete everything else so I don’t waste my time or yours."

  • Put a Spamguard on your Email, and remove yourself from all lists that have little or nothing to do with your priorities at work and at home. Stop forwarding jokes, hugs and anything else that is chain-oriented or promises luck or trouble if you don’t.

  • Have a secretary screen your calls or listen to your voicemail, and leave you a list of who called and why.

  • Turn off your cell phone or pager during meetings, unless you are on some kind of emergency call. Remember that in the "old days," if you were in a meeting, people had to wait until it was over to talk to you. It worked then, and it still does. Concentrate on getting the most out of where you are at the moment so you don’t have to repeat the meeting or undo a mistake you made because you missed something important while you were on the phone. Stop trying to be in two places at once.

  • Organize your communications. Set aside 30-60 minutes in the morning, after lunch and before you go home at night to write letters, answer Email, or return calls. Don’t let communications clutter filter into the rest of your workday. Schedule the time as you would a meeting, and make a habit of it (P.S. It takes 21 days to create a new habit, so be patient with yourself.)

  • If you haven’t acted or responded to something within one week, delegate or delete it.

  • Make sure all meetings have four things: 1) a start time that is rock-solid. I know of one executive who actually locks the door at the precise moment the meeting is to start; 2) A simple agenda of two or three points that can be concluded in one hour. Meetings that go on longer than that are usually unproductive; 3) A known and explained reason for you to be in attendance. Come prepared to share what is required to create the necessary solution, and you’ll save a lot of time and effort. And if you’re not needed, find a reason not to attend. Forget office politics—these days, productivity is more important; 4) A precise ending time. If matters are now fully resolved after one hour, create a list of what needs to be done to get the matter resolved, divide it among the participants so that each person knows what he or she must do, and schedule another meeting after that work has been completed.

  • Stop leaving voicemails with instructions. More than 90 percent of all communication takes place non-verbally. So if you simply speak words, they will be interpreted by the other person according to that person’s experience, education and beliefs. If you want someone to do something for you or with you, you must have them tell you in their own words what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. This is best done in person, but if that’s not possible, the phone is the next best solution.

The Ten Gifts by Robin Silverman

So if you feel as if you’ve been drowning in communications clutter, you’re not alone. Try these simple ideas, and you’ll gain the breathing room you crave to do the things that bring you a sense of personal achievement and success. And in the process, maybe you’ll inspire others to clean up their communications, too!

© Copyright 2002 Robin L. Silverman.  All Rights Reserved.

Robin L. Silverman
Robin L. Silverman helps individuals and businesses create the future they want by focusing the power of their inner brilliance on the results they desire. She is the author of "The Ten Gifts" and "Something Wonderful is About to Happen" (January, 2003). In addition, she speaks on topics like, "Get the Monkey Off Your Back" and "Decluttering Your Communications."



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